As India’s economic profile grows, so too does its ambitions. The acquisitions it has made, from assault rifles, howitzers, futuristic infantry combat vehicles, advanced missiles, to aircraft, attack helicopters, drones, submarines, and aircraft carriers, mean to project power outside not only its immediate area of concern as these new weapons systems are all power-projection platforms, which go far from home base. In this regard, India is arguably aiming to become a continental power rather than just a sub-continental power – in other words, a global superpower.
India has also been increasingly wary of China being a potential threat and does not particularly relish the already tense relationship with archrival Pakistan. If India’s defence spending reflects its regional security concerns as well as Delhi’s global aspirations, the estimated $100 billion defence budget over the next 15 years to acquire and upgrade new weapons systems is a clear message to its neighbours.
However, the current trend of importing most of its military hardware and software has its drawbacks, namely being left vulnerable to supply lines being choked in times of conflict. With more than three quarters of all India’s weapons systems sourced overseas, a huge technological gap has been created in its defence industry.
Rahul Bedi, a defence analyst, says India first and foremost needs to bridge this gap to establish a solid foundation for the domestic defence industry.
“India basically has mediocre engineering skills, but no developmental skills as far as weapon systems are concerned. So it is going to take another at least 20 to 30 years for India to meet even moderately its weapon requirements,” Bedi said.
In contrast, China’s relative decline as an arms importer is due in part to the rapid development its own indigenous arms production capability. It has been able to lessen its dependence on imports at the same time bolstering its position as an arms exporter in turn and is now ranked as the world’s sixth largest seller behind the US, Russia, Germany, France and the UK - largely as a result of India’s long-time foe Pakistan being their chief client.
Given China’s huge economic and political clout, Beijing is still set to increase its military spending by 11.2% this year, a move some analysts suspect is in response to U.S. plans to increase its military presence in the Pacific.
China maintains that this assertion is baseless and says that its reasonable and appropriate increase in defence spending is in proportion to rapid economic and social development and is well in line with the steady increase of fiscal revenues. Understandably, the announcement has been met with alarm especially by its neighbours.
The SIPRI report also stated that the top five global arms importers in recent years were all from the region – India, followed by South Korea, Pakistan, China and Singapore – accounting 44 per cent of the global arms trade.